High mountain snow melt fills rivers and creeks as peak runoff nears

May 26, 2023, 5:15 PM | Updated: 7:50 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The high-elevation snowpack in Utah is melting quickly. The low-elevation and mid-elevation snow has already melted and run off into creeks and rivers.

Still, there is a lot of water that has to come down from the high mountains

The creeks that drain the high-elevation snowpack are really roaring right now.  That includes Big Cottonwood Creek, Little Cottonwood Creek, City Creek, and Mill Creek in Salt Lake County.  

Huge volumes are flowing in those creeks today and the peak is still a week away.

Glen Merrill, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, talks about the high runoff flows in Big Cottonwood Creek. (KSL TV) Big Cottonwood Creek is roaring as high-mountain snow continues to melt. (KSL  TV)

“That high elevation snowpack has ripened, and it’s melting, and it’s melting fast on a daily basis,” Glen Merrill, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service said.

He met us at Big Cottonwood Creek to talk about the runoff.  He briefed Salt Lake County Flood Control earlier in the day. 

“Right now, we’re seeing super huge volumes spread out over time, which is the perfect scenario to actually get through the melt-off with the record-breaking snowpack that we’ve experienced this year,” Merrill said. 

There are still more than 40 inches of snow water equivalent at the top of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, he said, melting at a rate of two inches a day.

There are still more than 20 days of snow left to come down the hydrologist said. 

“The weather has behaved. We should all thank the weather because right now, the positives far outweigh the negatives,” he said. 

He is expecting the Cottonwood Creeks to keep rising gradually, peaking in about ten days, sometime between June 2 and June 12. City Creek should peak next week.

“We’re just seeing kind of a muted effect with the weather being very favorable for runoff, and this cloud cover has really benefited how the snow comes down,” Kade Moncur, director of Salt Lake County Flood Control said.

Right now, they’re not projecting those creeks to flood, while Salt Lake County Flood Control continues to monitor the swift water flowing within the banks.

“We go from creek to creek,” Moncur said. “We’re pulling all of the debris from where we usually do. We’re actually out in the middle of the night and were monitoring those creeks. But we’re just not seeing a ton of issues at the moment.”

There has been some flooding, the kind to be expected on a record-breaking snow year.

Even with the ideal weather conditions, a flood warning was issued for the Logan River on Tuesday but it expired Friday morning.

Several cabins were already dealing with damage on Tuesday as waters pushed through some sandbag walls.

A road leading to several cabins was washed over and residents were concerned that both of their access roads would also get washed out.

“We are escaping that widespread, dramatic, flooding, that we’ve seen in years past,” Merrill said. 

It’s still too early to say that there won’t be any flooding issues related to these creeks.  So far, the water is flowing well.

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High mountain snow melt fills rivers and creeks as peak runoff nears